What is the 11-Plus Exam and Why is it Important?
September 1, 2021
Parent and toddler having a discussion about dinner

Across the UK, parents try to secure a place at the best schools, and the best universities for their children. There has been an increase in parents opting to send their children to grammar and independent schools, in order to increase the chance of their children to achieve the best GCSE and A level results possible, to enter the top universities. However, to enter a grammar or some independent secondary schools, 11 Plus exams must be sat by the child which contains various types of content not taught in the primary school curriculum.

Children usually start to prepare for the 11 Plus exams from the age of 8 (Year 3), until they sit the exam in Year 6. This is because it can take years to build the skills as well as vocabulary needed, to enhance their analytical thinking necessary for the exams. Therefore, the earlier they start, the more prepared they will be for these exams. While the 11 Plus exam is rewarding, it is equally as vigorous to prepare for. As applying for grammar and independent secondary schools and sitting these exams are not compulsory, if you are unsure about your child embarking on the 11 Plus exam journey, you can take our short quiz:



Yes ✔

No ✔

1 Do you receive positive feedback in your child’s school reports?
2 Are your child’s test results above average?
3 Is your child a high achiever academically?
4 Does your child like to be challenged in school?
5 Has your child’s teacher recommended grammar or independent schools for your child?
6 Is your child an enthusiastic learner, who is keen to explore different subjects?


If you answered mostly ‘yes’ to the questions above your child may be a strong candidate for the 11 Plus exam.

If you have decided that you want your child to enter your child into a grammar or independent school, and thus undertake the 11 Plus exam, it is important to know which exam, exactly, that your child will be taking. There are two main exam boards used for the 11 Plus exam: CEM and GL. The exam that your child takes will depend on the school that they are applying for. Often, independent schools chose to create their own test papers using material in the same style of the CEM and GL exam papers. GL and CEM both generally cover the main 4 topic areas of the 11+: Verbal Reasoning Non-Verbal Reasoning, Mathematics and Numerical Reasoning and English. But, what is the difference between the two? There are four key differences between the two:

  • Subjects taught: GL covers English, Maths, Verbal and Non-verbal reasoning. CEM covers verbal, non-verbal, and numerical reasoning.
  • Exam length: The GL exam usually last 45 minutes long, however, there has been some variation throughout the years. Whereas, the CEM exam does not have a standard format and so, the exam length will vary from year to year.
  • Skills assessed: GL exams are far broader in the terms of the material they cover. Meanwhile, the CEM exams would require students to build a larger bank of vocabulary. And, the CEM exams tend to closely follow the KS2 curriculum particularly in the style of the exam questions.
  • Exam paper style: The GL exam splits their papers by subject so there would be four papers in total, while the CEM exam will combine Maths and Non- Verbal Reasoning into a single paper likewise with English and Verbal Reasoning.


There are 4 key areas within the exam that students will prepare for:

1. Mathematics and Numerical reasoning

This topic builds on the mathematics that primary school children are taught and attempts to test the child’s reasoning skills rather than their knowledge. This is done through mathematical problems that require application of taught methods. Common topics include: Algebra, Geometry, and Probability.

2. Verbal-Reasoning

This topic assesses a child’s verbal ability, how they recognize links and trends between words. This is an important skill to build, because not only is it relevant for the 11 Plus exams, but these skills are sort after by both universities and employers. For 11 Plus exam success in verbal reasoning, building your child’s vocabulary is of upmost importance. The average 11-year-old is expected to have a vocabulary of 2,000 words but the vocabulary for an 11 Plus student is expected to be over 3,000 words.

3. Non-Verbal and Spatial Reasoning

This is the most abstract topic as it is not taught in the national curriculum. This topic assesses the child’s ability to make connections which are not overt. It heavily tests and grows their logical reasoning capabilities, which relates to their IQ, which can be developed. Non-Verbal Reasoning requires students to utilize their problem-solving using pictures and diagrams. It tests their ability to analyze visual information and solve problems based on visual reasoning.

4. English

English is another important topic. Being able to write with purpose, at a high level is an essential skill, that is best developed starting from a young age. It is useful and relevant for all types of professions, and also encapsulates the other three topics. This topic is often assessed through an essay style exam and contains early secondary school content. This is a special topic, as there is no limit as to how much of it can be taught.


Where can I find a good Grammar school?

There are many ways to choose which grammar and/or independent school to apply to for your child. However, it can be an arduous process for parents to try and the perfect fit. If you are looking for a state-sponsored grammar school, with no fees, these schools can be found in the counties listed below:

Berkshire, Bexley, Birmingham, Buckinghamshire, Cumbria, Devon, Dorset, Essex, Gloucestershire, Hertfordshire, Kent, Lancashire, London, Lincolnshire, Medway, Shropshire, Trafford, Wiltshire, Walsall, Warwickshire, Wirral, Wolverhampton and Yorkshire.

For parents looking in London in particular, here is the list of all the boroughs that have state funded grammar schools: Barnet, Redbridge, Sutton, Kingston upon Thames, Enfield, Bromley, Bexley.


The 11 Plus timeline

Grammar schools work to a strict timeline and in order to ensure that you are successful in applying to the school of your choice, it’s important to be aware of the key dates. Below we have outlined some general time periods which will be very important on your child’s 11 Plus journey:

  • April: Schools will open their registration in April or May and set a deadline around June or July for parents to register their child for the 11 Plus exam. There is some variability, so please check the dates of the particular schools of interest.
  • September: For the majority of grammar schools, the 11 Plus exam will occur during the first two weeks of September 2021.
  • October: The 11 Plus results will be posted in mid-October 2021 for grammar schools
  • March (The following year): School allocations are confirmed on 01 March 2022.

*please note that these dates may not apply to every grammar and independent school.


Will Tuition help your child pass the 11 Plus exam?

Fundamentally, the 11 Plus exams are used by grammar schools to help promising young minds reach their full potential, and tuition can support your child on the way to this exam. The 11 Plus exam is known for their level of difficulty, in both the depth and breadth of material, that students are expected to cover; a tutor can ease a child into the wealth of information that they will need learn over the years and facilitate their learning to ensure that their exam preparation is a smooth and stress-free process. inTuition tutors are dedicated to helping students pass their exams with a pass rate of 89%. Preparing for the 11 Plus has never been a more enjoyable experience.

Book your free academic evaluation with inTuition Clubs below and receive comprehensive feedback on your child’s level and their aptitude for the 11+ exam.

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